Friday, February 04, 2011

Why We Still Love Frankenstein

While a new stage version of Frankenstein gets set to open at the National Theatre in London, The Independent takes a trenchant look at what it is that keeps us coming back to Mary Shelley’s 1818 masterwork:
So as the National’s Frankenstein brilliantly gets back to basics, it's an opportune moment for considering the broad context in which all versions of Mary Shelley’s myth are required to situate themselves. Putting herself in arresting alignment with her equivocal scientist, Shelley described the novel -- in the preface to its popular, conservatively toned-down 1831 incarnation -- as her "hideous progeny". Almost inevitably, it escaped her control -- just as the Creature goes AWOL -- after publication. Her myth has been interpreted as a parable about the ethics of governing (or failing to govern) experimental scientists; a cautionary tale, co-opted by both the left and the right, about what happens when the proletariat is allowed to run amok; a Freudian bodice-ripper about the id on the rampage; and as a coded homosexual saga about a man who usurps the female prerogative and tries to bypass womanhood in having a baby by himself.
This new production is being directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and was written by BAFTA-winning playwright Nick Dear. It stars Jonny Lee Miller (who worked with Boyle on Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch who will alternate “the roles of Scientist and Creature each night.”
The National Theatre adaptation manages to be both graphic and subtle. It understands that Mary Shelley was not opposed to experimental science -- despite the plethora of contemporary cartoons in which the Karloff clone is a shorthand for shutting down the debate. For example, there's a cartoon in which two lab-coated scientists are wielding test tubes. The Karloff figure enters with a cry of "Mummy!" You only have to register the prefix "Franken-", as in, say, Franken-food, to appreciate the negative force of this.
The Independent piece is long, well-considered and well worth reading. You can find it here.



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